The Auburn Tigers stepped on a rake this past weekend in Columbia, South Carolina. They fell to the Gamecocks in a November which has completely unraveled.
By Matt Zemek
Auburn was in the process of putting together a solid first season under Bryan Harsin. Players were responding to the coaches. Improvements were evident. Everyone was buying in.
Then the offense collapsed against Texas A&M.
Then the defense collapsed against Mississippi State. Bo Nix got injured.
Auburn could not rally around T.J. Finley against South Carolina.
The injuries are a factor, and there were always weaknesses on this roster which were capable of being exposed. Yet, losing three SEC games in the past month is a breakdown which has Auburn fans rightly concerned.
Now comes Alabama to Jordan-Hare Stadium. This is not one of Nick Saban’s better Alabama teams, much like the 2019 team Auburn was able to beat. Yet, Auburn might be so damaged and dysfunctional that the Tigers won’t be able to take advantage of the opportunity they have in front of them. Let’s see what Auburn has to do to prevail in the Iron Bowl and salvage its very shaky season.
1 – Contain Bryce Young
Don’t let him bust loose with his legs. Don’t get beaten over the top by his throwing arm. Keep the play in front of each Auburn defender and force Alabama to make 13-play, 80-yard drives. Shutting off the quick strike is an essential cornerstone component of successful defense against the Alabama offense. The Tide depend on their passing game to score and set up the offense in good down-and-distance situations. Alabama is unlikely to lead with its running game, especially since Bama ran for only six yards against LSU a few weeks ago. If Auburn can limit what Bryce Young can do, and maybe even grab one or two interceptions, the Tigers will have a real chance. If Young plays a great game, Auburn simply isn’t going to win, no matter what else might happen.
2 – Finley focus
T.J. Finley, a transfer from LSU, should be better than what he showed against South Carolina. Finley, if he was good enough to be recruited to LSU in the first place, ought to be able to play at a reasonably high level – nothing spectacular, but certainly orders of magnitude better than what he put forth against the Gamecocks. If Finley can’t make a substantial jump forward from the South Carolina game, it’s hard to see where Auburn finds enough offense to win.
3 – Game of the year from the O-line
Alabama’s defense showed real vulnerabilities against Arkansas. Auburn’s offensive line was dominated by Texas A&M, and it crumbled in the second half of the loss to Mississippi State. It couldn’t make much of an impact versus South Carolina. We knew this group wasn’t going to be especially strong in 2021, but now comes a moment when these linemen need to band together and deliver a masterpiece. It is necessary for victory; it’s a non-negotiable part of a winning recipe.